There was a special kind of family reunion at Northeast Georgia Health System’s Corporate Plaza on Saturday, Sept. 15.
These families weren’t connected by blood, but by a shared experience.
Each family came with children in tow, because that’s who the reunion was about.
For the past six years, the neonatal intensive care unit at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center has held a gathering to celebrate the progress each child who has been through the NICU has made.
“It’s all about getting to see the success of our babies and see how they’re doing,” said Cassandra Whisnant, unit secretary and organizer of the event. “A lot of these babies are with us 100-plus days, so we end up building a really good relationship with them. Getting to see them here and do something for them is amazing.”
This year’s theme for the 138-family reunion was all-stars because “our babies truly are all-stars and our families are all-stars.” A small basketball goal was inside the building, giving children a chance to have fun. Face painting, balloon animals and a photo booth also were offered.
But it wasn’t about the games or the Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets or even the cupcakes. Everyone was there to celebrate and encourage the families.
“It’s nice that they’re doing this,” said Daniel Graham, whose wife, Isabel, had twins Tommy and Teddy eight months ago. “I’ve never heard of anyone doing an event reuniting the NICU before. It makes us feel special and appreciated.”
After complications with delivery, Tommy had to be delivered by cesarean section. He had low blood sugar and his heartbeat stopped. He was sent to the NICU, but he wouldn’t eat and Isabel said his weight dropped to 4 pounds, 6 ounces.
After four days, Isabel was discharged with Teddy, but Tommy remained in the NICU, which she said was the hardest part of the experience. But a mother in the next room knew exactly what she was going through and helped Isabel cope as she left the hospital.
“The day that I was discharged and I had to leave Tommy behind, that was a rough day,” Isabel said. “But she actually came by and was like, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK. I’ve got an eye on him.’ So it’s really nice because when we’re all in there together, we kind of understand what everyone is going through.”
Tommy was able to leave the NICU after a week. But for the little ones who don’t make it, Aubrey Williams, unit educator, said they still hold a special place in each nurse’s heart.
“Even with the families that have had a loss with us but have a twin or sibling with us, they still come back and see us,” Williams said. “Even at one of the hardest parts of their life, they still want to come back because of that bond we have with them. It’s a very rewarding day for us.”
Many nurses attended the reunion, each making their way through the crowd finding families and children they had bonded with in the NICU. Luckily they were able to make it to the celebration because, as Williams said, it’s not always a guarantee.
“It’s hard to staff the unit on these days because everyone wants to be here,” Williams said with a laugh.